Pucker up ... permanently?

Learn more about the tattooing method that simulates an 'everlasting' makeup effect.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

June 22, 2010


What is permanent makeup?

Permanent makeup (micropigmentation) is a type of tattooing in which dye is embedded beneath the skin to add permanent color to eyebrows, eyes, lips, cheeks and other parts of the body to simulate makeup or restore lost pigmentation.

What's its appeal?

Micropigmentation appeals to people who wish to camouflage scars, beauty marks and thinning hair; add color to nipples following breast reconstruction; and to restore eyebrows that were lost due to alopecia. It also appeals to people who are allergic to regular makeup; have motor or visual impairments that make it difficult to apply regular makeup; or who want the convenience of not having to apply regular makeup or not sweating it off during physical activity.

How is it done?

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a hand-held device punctures the skin hundreds of times per minute with a very thin needle, pushing the pigment into the skin. Follow-up visits may be necessary to achieve the desired effect.

Is it really permanent?

Permanent makeup cannot be washed off but it can fade over time, and touchups may be necessary.

How much does it cost?

According to The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (SPCP), permanent makeup applications average between $400 and $800. "Para-medical" procedures may cost $150 to $250 per hour. Physicians may charge more.

Does it hurt?

The SPCP says the level of discomfort varies with the individual client and the technician's skills. Discuss with your provider whether or not you should receive a nerve block or anesthetic ointment or injection to mitigate pain.

What are there risks?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warns that adverse reactions to micropigmentation may include infection, allergies, granulomas (nodules that form around material that the body perceives as foreign) and keloids (scars that grow beyond normal boundaries). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) complications include discomfort in the affected area during an MRI, and interference from permanent eyeliners when imaging around the eye.

Two other areas of concern, according to the FDA, are that many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact; and if you're unhappy with the result, it's difficult to remove your permanent makeup.

How to reduce the risks

To reduce the possibility of risk, have your procedure done by a plastic surgeon who performs permanent makeup procedures, or a cosmetic technician who's been certified by the SPCP.

For more information visit the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.